In Martin’s YA sci-fi debut, the start of a proposed trilogy reminiscent of The Matrix, a teen girl learns that her world is a simulated reality, an organization having rendered all of humankind in a comatose state.
It’s only Emery Parker’s second day at renowned boarding school Darden Preparatory, and the administration’s already sent for her. She meets Theo Barker, head of the Federal Commonwealth, who immediately drops this bombshell: the world Emery knows isn’t real. According to Theo, a group called the Seventh Sanctum, after toppling governments across the globe, combatted corruption by inducing a “worldwide coma.” Emery has trouble believing she and everyone else currently reside in simulated world Dormance. But it’s a tad suspicious that, by the mid-21st century, there’s been no technological advancement in 28 years. So she agrees to join The Alpha Drive, an initiative to overthrow 7S. Meanwhile, 7S’s Cpl. Torin Porter hasn’t made much progress hacking into FCW’s mainframe. Tampering with Emery’s newly embedded microchip may give him a way in, but rather than tell his superiors, Torin makes contact with Emery by himself. As the girl undergoes rigorous training in preparation for entering the uncertain 7S world, she must decide if she trusts Theo and the FCW, because soon, she and other Alpha Drive participants will be fighting to break people free of Dormance. The author retains a steady uneasiness throughout her tale. Emery isn’t sure if she’s working for the good guys or bad and is perpetually worried about the microchip in her neck; if someone spots it, wiped memories will ensue. But even Emery’s typical school life is filled with turmoil: she’s weary of her boyfriend and is involved in a teenage love triangle. Martin slyly leaves open seemingly endless possible scenarios, from one of Emery’s peers having a microchip to enemies operating covertly in her midst. The action-laden ending is a little rushed but does include marvelous connections to the protagonist’s sporadic visions in training sessions. Though Martin ably concludes this first installment, questions linger, like why Emery is evidently so important to FCW.
Engaging, real-world characters not in the real world; savvy and outright charming.